Global Conflict Fuels Exploitation
As the conflict in Israel-Gaza continues, we are reminded of the devastating impact of conflict zones on civilians, in particular, the increased incidence of child trafficking and sexual violence. The number of countries experiencing violent conflict is the highest it has been in the last 30 years, resulting in the displacement of 30 million children. In 2022, 468 million children worldwide lived in areas affected by armed conflict. This had increased from a 2021 report, which stated that of the 426 million children living in conflict areas at the time, 1 in 6 were living near armed groups that perpetrated sexual violence against them. In 2022, Africa was the region with the greatest number of children affected by conflict, with about 180 million children living in conflict zones. 35 armed conflicts are currently occurring in Africa alone. Armed conflicts have terrible,wide ranging impacts on people, with many children, globally, experiencing grave-violations of their rights. Child trafficking, listed by the UN as one of the grave violations committed against children, is greatly exacerbated by armed conflict, with child abductions, reported in 2021, being the highest since recording began in 2005.
Figure 1: The 10 worst conflict affected countries for children 2021 (Save the Children, 2022)
People trafficking can occur for a number of reasons, including: sexual exploitation, sexual slavery, forced marriage, forced labour, and trafficking of children into armed groups. Despite trafficking occurring in many forms, it always involves the exploitation of people. Various factors perpetuate trafficking, such as: state collapse, the deterioration of rule of law, forced displacement, humanitarian need and socioeconomic stress, social fragmentation and family breakdown. Of course, all of these factors are common occurrences in countries experiencing armed conflict. Trafficking can affect people fleeing war zones as well as those who remain. Refugees and people using migrant smugglers are particularly at risk of exploitation. In some cases, children are sent alone by parents or relatives, making them extremely vulnerable. Those that remain in conflict zones are also at risk of trafficking, particularly by armed groups who may use trafficking to increase their military power and economic resources.
Photo: Apsatou Bagaya / Save the Children
There have been a number of horrific cases documented in North Africa in recent years, of trafficking of people, including children, living in conflict zones. In 2016, hundreds of women were abducted by Sudan’s People Liberation Army and sexually enslaved. In the Horn of Africa, armed groups have forced girls into sexual slavery and used boys as child soldiers. In Central Africa, armed groups have used human trafficking for forced labour. In Mali, in 2020, armed groups trafficked children for labour in gold mines. Trafficking cases of people from Israel-Palestine and Ukraine, document the dangers people face when trying to flee a conflict zone. In Israel-Palestine, 493,000 women and girls have already been displaced from their homes since the recent conflict erupted.
People trying to cross military checkpoints are often exploited by traffickers while seeking the aid of smugglers. In Ukraine, over 8.13 million people have fled the country since the war began. Crowds of people gathering at border crossings are falling victim to criminals pretending to offer help and transport. The current conflict has exacerbated a pre-existing problem of trafficking of Ukrainian people. However, despite many horrific incidents still occurring, Ukraine has also become a good example of what the international community can achieve with regards to supporting those affected by war.
Temporary protection schemes and visa-free entry for Ukrainians to almost all European countries have significantly reduced the need, for those fleeing war, to use migrant smugglers. Temporary protection status provides the holder with a number of rights that improves their resilience to trafficking and other abuses. The Ukraine conflict has also experienced far greater media coverage than other conflict zones, likely increasing the international response and support. Looking to other conflicts, there is much that can be done by the international community and learnt from the response to Ukraine. People must insist that their leaders take action to protect children trapped in war zones.
Communities in conflict-affected areas must be supported to create protective environments. Safe means of passage must be provided for refugees and those fleeing conflict zones. The transfer of military equipment must be prevented to areas where they may be used to facilitate violence against children and civilians. Finally, global awareness of ongoing conflicts must remain present so that support and aid continues to be delivered where it is needed the most, and the occurrence of atrocities such as child traffickingi s greatly reduced.
Researched and Written by Awareness for Child Trafficking Africa (ACT Africa) – Tommy Ekers
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